A Reflection of My Life after living in Uganda as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Another Road Trip

Driving through Utah - beautiful!
After a schedule packed week of job training in Denver, I was given a car and directions to my new home in San Francisco. I am managing a team who will connect youth to volunteer opportunities in the city. I have three fantastic college-age staff members who are enthusiastic, hard-working, dedicated and fun. We road-tripped out to San Francisco and took the time to see a few sites along the way. It was a unanimous consensus that Utah is the most beautiful State we drove through. We could have done without most of Wyoming (especially the snow storm we drove through) and Nevada but still found things to enjoy in all the States along the way to the California coast.

We spent the night in the middle of no-where Nevada. I had not been very excited about this prospect and thought Reno may provide more entertainment. However, Reno was 500 miles further than we were able to go. What seemed like a sketchy little town full of casinos and gentleman's clubs, turned out to be a really fun night for us. We ate at a local bar and played pool sharing crazy life stories. We kept each other entertained with Philip's terrible dating stories, my becoming a true PCV stories, Maggie's beating up her sister stories and Jake's road-trip with college friends stories. We had moments of laughing so hard tears were coming out of eyes and other times of showing our weaknesses as the cue ball jumped off the pool table once again. I am learning more and more about these dear people and am excited for the team we will make this summer.

We walked all the way out to the Salt Lake

Salt Lake

Maggie, Jake and Philip with salty shoes and dirty feet from walking to Salt Lake

Team at the Nevada boarder trying to use the camera timer

Monday, May 23, 2011

Picking-up Where You Left Off

I learned many things while in the Peace Corps. One is that I want to work in a community development/social work kind of setting. Since finishing the Peace Corps, I have been able to travel and ease my way back into life in the States. Now, as my bank account approaches the red, I find myself needing to work. But not being completely sure of what I want to do or where I want to go, I decided a short-term assignment might just be the best next step. So, I am finding myself in Denver for a week of training and then I'm off for San Francisco for the summer to work connecting youth to volunteer opportunities in the community.

I have many friends all over the United States, and really the world, and I try and connect with them whenever I find myself near their homes. The sunny state of Colorado is home to a good friend of mine who lived on my floor my freshmen year of college. When I found out I had to be in Denver for a week of training, I called Lindsay to see if she wanted to meet up and catch-up. Today, she made the drive from Colorado Springs and picked me up from the airport.

Being the thoughtful friend she is, she took me to a great breakfast place down-town that served excellent mimosas and gluten-free foods! I had a delicious German Chocolate pancake with a pomegranate orange mimosas. Wonderful! Even more wonderful was the time we had to catch-up and hash out life together. There are friends that can pick-up with you anytime and you keep going where you left off. It was a heart warming/wrenching/healing time to be with Lindsay and I am thoroughly happy for the special time we had today.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Life of a Farm Girl

My parents are farmers. Well, my dad is the real farmer since my mom makes everything that grows die, but my mom does a lot of work on the farm in her own right. She does the bookkeeping, makes phone calls, runs errands, etc. As one of 5 girls growing-up on a farm we all played our part too. We learned how to pray for the weather based on the season and need. We appreciate neat and straight rows in a field. We are fluent in farm-lingo. We wore over-alls and plaid as children. We know how high the corn should be by July 4th. We love the beauty of the earth and the cycle of growth. We know how to read the markets. And we rise and fall with the morning and evening sun making us much more productive in the morning than at night. While I know how to drive the tractors this really hasn't been my focus. I've been the one who runs parts between fields or goes to town to run errands.

One thing I love about being home is having coffee each morning with my mom. We meet in the living room or out on the porch if it's warm enough early in the morning. Still wearing our pajamas we enjoy the warmth of that beautiful first morning cup of coffee. With it being spring and planting season, our coffee time is sometimes interrupted with a request to do something on the farm. This morning my dad needed a belt brought out to one of the fields where our tractor was planting. My mom got dressed and I decided to go along for the ride but to forgo getting dressed quite yet. I threw on a coat and slipped into a pair of ballet flats believing I'd be sitting in the car the whole time.

Once at the field my dad called to tell me he needed the seed bin back and I should drive it home. So, still in my nightie with my glasses on, I climbed into our big diesel truck and made the slow (40 mph) drive home with the seed bin behind me. I didn't look exactly like the farm girl I know how to be but I felt confident and content in my role.

Me with the seed bin about to make the journey home
(Notice the gingham nightie - still resemble farm girl a little:) )

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Thompson Falls

Sarah and Jeremy took us to Thompson Falls, one of their favorite places nearby. A long time ago, an engineer thought building a dam at this place would be a good idea and predicted it would be the largest source of energy for Montana. He was wrong but his dam still lives on. There are trails along the dammed river and we took a little hike around. It was beautiful! The day was windy causing our hair to be out of control but we had a great time exploring the woods together.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Small Town America

Having grown up in rural Minnesota, I have always had a love of small towns. There is a simplicity and honesty they provide. Everyone knows everyone else which can lead to problems with gossip but can also bring accountability to a community. There is a true sense of belonging when you go to the post office and get stuck talking to the post master for the next hour because he knows everything and wants to share it. Or at least he thinks he does, which can lead to some of the problems in a small town. While small towns may not afford the best academic educations, easy access to communication or 1000 varieties of tomatoes in the grocery store and other endless choices, they still have a lot to offer.

Sarah and Jeremy work at a Christian adventure camp near a small town in Western Montana. Plains has a population of 1200 people. We walked down the street with Sarah and she was greeted by name. Even if they didn't know her name they knew her face and wanted to talk about the baby.

Sarah took us to the small grocery store and was horrified to see the industrial revolution was finally getting to Plains. Conveyor belts had been added to the check-out counters! Ashley and I laughed. Progress takes time but it takes even more time in small towns.

I fell a little bit in love with Plains. It's surrounded by mountains and rivers that take your breath away. The people were friendly. There weren't too many options to overwhelm you. I found comfort with the lack of options and not being an anonymous face in the crowd. Maybe it's me coming off extreme community in Uganda that has me craving and desiring the simplicity and community of a small town. While I continue to contemplate where-to-next, I'm beginning to think small town America might not be such a bad place.

Another picture of Adelynn just because she's so cute!

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Ones We Grow With

I met Sarah as a kindergardener on the school bus. She refused to sit in a seat that I occupied and if it was the only seat available she would sit at the very edge and tremble. With her over-active imagination, she had convinced herself I was an leprechaun. Of course, I didn't learn this for years. I just thought she was weird. Somewhere in middle school we became friends and began the long windy journey of friendship.

I met Ashley in middle school. We were in the same 6th grade class but she was dating the boy I liked so she was my enemy. One day at a kickball match Joey, the hot stud of 6th grade and Ashley's boyfriend, cried when Ashley kicked a homerun against his team. She dumped him there and I thought she was great. It was there our respect, appreciation and love began for one another.

Many years later the three of us have survived extreme crushes, mullet haircuts, perms, no-shower sprees, family sadness, learning to drive, youth group, graduation (HS and College!), summers at camp, new family members, tennis practice, cooking Mexican dishes, sleep-overs, long walks, long-distance phone calls, overseas trips, living in different countries (Canada, Guatemala, England, Uganda), getting married, buying a house and getting new jobs. While we spent the first 7 years of our friendship nearly inseperable and living within 20 miles of each other, the last 8 years have often times been thousands of miles away from each other. Through the distance our friendship has changed with the ebb and flow of our different lives. Some of our dreams have changed while some have been realized. We continue to be there for one another as our lives go on independantly through phone calls, e-mails and dinner dates when we happen to be in the same state.

Sarah was the first to leave the country spending part of a summer in Panama while we were in high school. She was the first to fall in love with flannel. Sarah was the first to play singles instead of doubles in tennis. She was the first to introduce us to old movies. She was the first (and only) to get malaria while traveling around on a medical ship in West Africa. She was the first to get married. In some regards, Sarah has been a real trailblazer in our friendship. Now, she is the first to have a baby (and squat while having one! yay!).

Ashley and I flew out to Spokane where we rented a car and drove through the beautiful mountains, valleys and over the rivers of Washington, Idaho and Montana to get to a little place in the middle of no-where Montana to visit Sarah, Jeremy and the new little Adelynn. The drive was breathtaking and I kept stopping the car, much to Ashley's amusement, to take pictures of the snowcapped mountains, glittering streams and old steal bridges. I kept hoping a steam engine train would click along next to us on one side while some wild bison munched in the valley on the other side and then as we turned the bend I hoped to see some fly fishermen out casting their lines. It didn't happen but I was still happy with this drive.

We arrived in the evening which was still bright with Northern summer light to be greeted by Jeremy, Sarah and Adelynn. Adelynn is the sweetest 3 week old baby girl. I, a sucker for babies, cannot stop holding her and being amazed with her little yet long fingers, smooth thin baby skin and hiccups that shakers her whole little body. I get excited to pick out her clothes in the morning, burp her after she's eaten and speak to her in a language she'll never remember. It's also been really fun to see Jeremy and Sarah in their new role as parents. They are doing such a great job. They seem very comfortable in this role and very proud, as they should be.

So as we sit around sharing life, passing the baby around, playing board games, making flautas and eating huckleberry ice-cream (it is Montana afterall) our friendship has grown once more in a new direction. We're learning how to be friends with a mom; how to be friends with a pregnant career woman; and how to be friends with a newly laid-back, indecisive Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. I'll let you guess who is who.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Galapagos Islands Part III: Island Life

Going from island to island we had a lot of opportunites to see some incredible animals up close and personal. While each island pretty much held the same animals, it was still nice to see them in their natural habitats.

Me with land iguana

Land iguana

Red crabs

Jen being thoughtful with a turtle

FlamingoSea lions abound!
Me near a bachelor sea lion
Jen having a staring contest with a sea lion on the beach
Frigate birds trying to attract each other to mate
Land iguanas trying to stay cool in the sand

And so ends our trip to the Galapagos Islands. It was full of water and land life, crazy times on a boat in the ocean and laughter between friends as we made new memories. Bahamas, Canary Islands, Galapagos Islands, what islands will we visit next together?

For more detailed descriptions, check out Jen's perspective: The Journey Begins...Again

The Galapagos Islands Part II: Snorkeling

Everyday we went snorkeling, sometimes twice a day. We went both deep-water and shallow-water snorkeling. Deep-water snorkeling was by far the best because we got to see so much life. This is also were the sea lions would hang out and swim with you. While we did see sharks and a whale we didn't swim with them. However, every other sea creature imaginable was with us as we snorkeled.

Jen says, "Our snorkeling places were great. We went underwater and there were fish everywhere. We got to swim with the seal lions and watched as they slid in and off the rocks and swirled and twirled underwater. Amanda and I saw a sea turtle. We got some great pictures with the underwater camera." Yay for underwater camera bags!

Sea lion playing Sea turtle

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Galapagos Islands Part I: Unique Experiences

The Galapagos Islands are most famously associated with Charles Darwin. Though he was only in the Galapagos Islands for a short time (4 months) and at a young age (26 yrs), his mentioning them in his research and work to follow put them on the map forever. The Galapagos Islands are a group of volcanic islands off the coast of Ecuador. Jen and I were interested in seeing all the different wildlife, the various landscapes and cruising around on a boat to the different islands.

Even before leaving Quito for the Galapagos I wasn't feeling well. I had one of the worst headaches of my life, my muscles, bones and joints hurt and I just generally didn't feel well. I thought I might just have altitude sickness and hoped being at sea level would cure me. However, upon arriving in the Galapagos, I felt even worse. I became convinced I had dengue fever, typhoid, typhus, malaria and menengitis all at the same time. Jen left me in bed and headed out for a long walk along the coast-line of the island and also to pay a visit to the pharmacy. After describing my problem in detail and explaining I had been living in Africa only a few weeks prior, several pharmacists put their heads together and came up with 4 different medicines they insisted would cure me. Jen brought them back these medicines with instructions in Spanish.

The next day we were scheduled to get on a small cruise boat and sail the waters for 4 days. I still didn't feel better. A few hours before we were scheduled to meet at the docks to get on our boat Jen convinced me to go to the hospital. There was a long line of about 40 Ecuadorian women with their babies but being the token tourist and white person, I was sent to the front of the line and saw an emergency doctor immediately. With Jen as translator, the doctor asked some questions, listened to my heart and lungs, looked down my throat, in my ears and at my eyes, felt my legs and diagnosed me with some bacterial infection. How could this immense pain be cause by a bacterial infection? I was not convinced but we had no time to argue. Jen and I slowly marched across the street to the pharmacist where we returned and exchanged the medicine from the night before for the penicillin and pain killers I needed. Only in a developing country can you bring medicine back!

I must admit, a little bit after taking the first dose I felt a bit better. A few days later, I was fine. Who would have thought a bacterial infection could cause so much pain. Certainly not me.

Taking my first dose of penicillin infront of the free hospital

Once out at sea we stopped at an island to mail our letters. The special thing about this mail system is that it's done in old whaling tradition - without stamps. You look through the pile of letters in a mail box and see if any are going to a place near you. If so, you take that letter and deliver it. You add your letters to the pile for someone else to take when they are going that way. So some of you, don't be surprised if someday someone shows up at your door with a letter from me from the Galapagos Islands. I have complete faith this system works. It might take a hundred years but...
Cruising around from island to island proved to be a bit much for me. I suffer from motion sickness normally and when you put me out on the open seas in a small cruise boat things don't brode well. At night we even were bracing ourselves in our beds as the boat dramatically heaved over the big waves. Jen, ever the trooper, tried to be a good nurse throughout these difficult times and she succeeded in making me still smile throughout.

Our cruise boat

What a friend!